Aid And Respect

Posted: July 19, 2008 in Compassion, Family, Homelessness, Misconceptions, Morality, Self Esteem

Yesterday evening, while checking my RSS news feeds, I came across an article, Event today aims to give homeless aid, respect, on the Arizona Daily Star website.

What caught my eye about the article straightaway was the headline: in particular the word "respect."  

There are some folks who feel that respect is something which is earned. While, that may be true to a certain extent, I believe that every person is entitled to respect period – if for no other reason than they are people.

I’ll admit that sometimes it hard to show respect to certain individuals.

I myself am guilty of not always being respectful toward others – especially if that person is rude to me for no reason at all. But, while that may give me a reason to not show respect, it most certainly does not give me the right. And, there is a big difference between having a reason to be disrespectful and having the right to be disrespectful. It is a character flaw on my part – one which I have to work on daily to try and fix.

Respect is something that our nation’s homeless get very little of. I’m sure that most of that has to do with their outward appearance – and stereotypes. And stereotypes, of course, are based on misconceptions.

Let me once again reiterate: there are indeed those homeless who are the very epitome of the homeless stereotype. However, consider what Leslie Carlson, who is Tucson and Pima County’s coordinator of the Plan to End Homelessness:

Our service providers are reporting more homelessness among families.

There’s the image of the single guy with the shopping cart. Certainly we have single men, but increasingly we are seeing homeless families.

There are always people who live paycheck to paycheck, and the price of food or gas or an illness — one little thing can put people in a position where they can’t keep up.

When you pause to consider that family homelessness is on the rise – in fact, homeless families are the fastest growing segment of America’s homeless population – shouldn’t that in itself be a clear indication that perhaps our views of the homeless aren’t exactly based in reality? Shouldn’t that cause us to re-evaluate why we cling to our misconceptions about the homeless? And, shouldn’t that cause us to want to find true remedial solutions to homelessness in our communities: solutions that are more about helping the homeless rather than penalizing them?

When a person first finds themselves homeless, they undergo a tremendous number of emotional and psychological traumas. They experience a sense of failure; their self-esteem is battered in ways that sometimes cannot be healed; there are feelings of depression and hopelessness; there is mental confusion; and a diversity of other stresses. Add to that, how they are treated by quite a large number of their community’s citizens with nothing but scorn and disdain – and you can see that homelessness is a harsh existence.

What makes it worse is that after a while, some homeless actually become so withdrawn from the rest of the community due to being seen as some type of social outcast, that finding effective methods for helping them becomes highly problematical.

The very last sentence in the article was also a quote by Ms. Carlson.

It could be that they are so sick and tired of bureaucracy or of people looking at them like they are dirt, and it’s preventing them from getting help that they’re qualified to receive.

Currently, the economic situation in this country is such that the lack of funding is one of the largest obstacles for implementing the types of assistive programs which can help our nation’s homeless. I understand this. Yet, when the economy was healthy we still didn’t do much better at helping the homeless than we are right now. As a result, we can’t blame our lack of homeless assistance programs entirely on affordability. Much of the problem has to do with our mindset regarding the homeless.

The moment we are willing to recognize that every person – homeless or non-homeless – is deserving of being treated humanely; treated with dignity; and treated with respect, is the day we will have taken the first step at helping to reduce the numbers of men, women and children who currently call the streets of our cities home.

  1. Marie says:

    For anyone who might want additional insight into homelessness, perhaps the Street News Service website would be a good place to visit:

  2. michael says:

    I’ve checked the Street New Services website.

    For any of you who are curious about this organization, let me quote directly from their site:

    “The Street News Service (SNS) is a gateway to the best articles, essays and features published by street papers worldwide. Street Papers are innovative social businesses and grass root projects that allow homeless and low income people to earn a dignified living by selling the publications face-to-face to the reading public. Street papers additionally provide editorial voices missing from mainstream media, by including consistent reporting on poverty as well as the writing and visual arts of economically disenfranchised people. Street papers serve a vital role in these cities, giving homeless people meaningful work, educating citizens about poverty issues and breaking important news stories.”

    Two supporters of the SNS are Reuters and the Inter Press Service News Agency

    Thank you for the link Marie.

    – m –

  3. sidhere says:


    As a former clinical social worker, I am inclined to search for underlying psychological problems of the homeless…it is true they are victims of a social disease which make people feel guilty if we fail to maintain adequate living standards.

    These guilt feelings and sense of worthlessness is largely learned by social conditioning and I suspect play a major role in the homeless feelings of impotency to deal with their situation…self respect and dignity does not need others to provide it.

    The alcoholic very often has to hit “rock bottom” before he is able to recover from his self destructiveness…the homeless has hit an extraordinary rock bottom and it would be important to explore its potential for gathering their resources to face this dilemma.


  4. michael says:


    The “social disease” that you refer to, are the misconceptions that the majority of the mainstream community stubbornly cling to with regards to the homeless.

    I agree that self-respect and dignity do not require others to provide it… however, there is a difference between a person having self-respect (or the lack thereof) and being treated disrespectfully by other simply because they are homeless.

    Some things are wrong and they are always wrong. Prejudice is one of those things… and the homeless are viewed through the eyes of prejudice more often than not.

    – m –

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